There is exactly one travel agency here, and I went there today to buy a plane ticket from Chengdu to Guangzhou. I was originally going to take an overnight train from Kunming, but my plans now require going back to Chengdu first, and a train from there to Guangzhou will take something like two days—too long to be trapped in a train in China, for me. So here I am at the single travel agency here, they tell me they have a ticket for 50% off, I say I want it, they ask for my ID, and I pull out my passport. Dear goodness, they say, what country is he from? (In such circumstances people always seem to prefer to ask the person I’m with where I’m from, even though I’m obviously capable of telling them myself.) I tell them. The boss says, normally we don’t do business with Americans, but since you’re Chinese (华裔), it’s OK. (And one that can speak Putonghua, too, the woman working there adds.) He tells me that Bush is to blame for the high oil prices, along with all the war around the world. They don’t do business with Americans or Japanese, he tells me. (They’re anti-Japanese for WWII reasons… I’ve been kind of shocked at how many TV shows and movies here are about the Japanese invasion of China, which naturally vilify the Japanese. I’m also kind of surprised that the actors portraying the Japanese are actually speaking Japanese, though I can’t tell if their accents are horrible or not.) I try to explain how the foreigners they meet here are just ordinary people, and remind him that pretty much half the people in the U.S. didn’t even vote for Bush, and the woman helps out by saying yes, it’s not like everyone’s a political scientist. He says, but maybe it will send a message if people know that Americans are disliked even in a small, remote town like here. He goes on to bring up the March incidents in Tibet. Isn’t it good that it’s being developed, he asks rhetorically. He goes on to tell me, pretty much every foreigner here ends up reporting to our travel agency, since they have to buy train or plane tickets. I smile and nod.
We walk out of the travel agency, and the important thing is, I have my half-price plane ticket in hand.